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How to forgive an addict: Top 10 tips

How do you forgive an addict?

As an author and speaker on co-addiction, and as a wife of a recovering drug-addict, one of the most common questions I get is how do you forgive? Helping a husband with drug addiction is no easy task. While drug relapse and recovery may be connected, the cycle of addiction is exhausting. It is understandable that after all of the lies, betrayal, and pain that come with addiction that loved ones would have a difficult time forgiving. It can seem unjustifiable. After everything the addict has subjected you to, why should they be forgiven?

What forgiveness IS NOT

While the process of forgiveness may seem difficult in the face of everything you’ve been through, it is a vital step for recovery. The addict must learn to forgive themselves in order to heal, and we must learn to forgive the addict in order to move past the fear, anger, and resentment that can keep us stuck. To understand what forgiveness is, let’s first talk about what forgiveness is not:

  • Forgiveness is not excusing or accepting bad behavior.
  • Forgiveness is not denying your anger or suppressing emotions.
  • Forgiveness is not eliminating consequences.
  • Forgiveness is not reconciliation.
  • Forgiveness is not letting people off the hook.

Forgive but don’t forget

The addict in your life likely did many things that caused physical, emotional, and financial damage. Even if he or she finally accepts help for their addiction a dark cloud can loom overhead. You might be holding onto bitter feelings, and these toxic emotions will affect your ability to have a full and healthy life. You don’t have to forget about what has happened. You can learn the lessons available and grow stronger. You can start to set boundaries and hold to them. The truth about forgiveness is that it’s a selfish act, (selfish in a positive sense). It is letting go of the anger inside of your own heart, and allowing yourself to move past the pain in order to find inner peace.

When you are hurt by somebody you might attempt to hang on to that pain. You don’t want to let it go because you want to show that person how much you’re suffering. You want them to feel as badly as you do. The hurt can turn into anger. After time, the anger turns into resentment. You are then walking around consumed by all of these horrible feelings. You are allowing an outside force to dictate how you feel within your own skin. By holding on and not forgiving, you are only hurting yourself.

Forgiveness is a state of mind

The more you learn about and understand addiction, the easier it becomes to forgive. It’s sad to think of what a prisoner an addict really is. To not have control over one’s own actions must be frightening. The guilt that gets carried around due to those actions must be overwhelming. They are hurting themselves far more than anybody else around them. Seeing them from empathetic eyes rather than angry eyes can help you to forgive.

Forgiveness is not a physical action — it is a state of mind. Not only can forgiveness help your emotional health, but forgiveness is good for your physical health as well. Studies have shown that working through forgiveness can lower blood pressure and lower incidents of heart disease. People who regularly practice forgiveness also have lower rates of depression and anxiety.

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Top 10 ways to forgive an addict

So how is ‘not forgiving’ affecting you? Are you ready to let go of the past and work on forgiveness? If so, here are some tips for moving through the process:

1. Make an effort to work on forgiving. You have the power to let go of negative emotions. You make the choices for your future, so choose a healthy new path that includes forgiveness.

2. Educate yourself to understand addiction. Understanding does not mean accepting, but viewing things from the addict’s perspective can help you to forgive. The addict is not trying to hurt you, their actions are simply side-effects of addiction.

3. Find your lessons. What have these circumstances taught you about life? How will you be a better person as a result? When we can step back and reflect on what our experiences are teaching us, we can learn to appreciate the personal growth and wisdom that accompany them.

4. Don’t hold out for the addict to apologize or make amends. Remember that forgiveness is a process that you should be doing for your own emotional and physical health. The addict may still be struggling. He or she may not be capable of making their own healthy choices at this time. By moving forward with forgiveness you can set a positive example for healthy change.

5. Give yourself time. Just as physical wounds take time to heal, so do emotional wounds. If you are struggling with the idea of forgiveness, maybe the pain is still too fresh. Anger can actually be a healthy emotion as long as it doesn’t settle for too long. Be cautious not to allow anger to turn into resentment, fear, and/or depression. These emotions can negatively affect your well-being.

6. Seek help. I encourage you to turn to a counselor or therapist, a codependency support group, a clergy from your church, or a good friend (one who will not place judgment or blame). There are also many books on the topic of forgiveness that can help you with the process.

7. Don’t keep score. After months or years of struggling, an addict can build up quite a list of negative behaviors, legal problems, debts, failed relationships, lost jobs, and the list goes on and on. If the addict is working on recovery, clean the slate. You don’t have to forget, but if you’re constantly reminding the addict of past mistakes the burden and guilt can hold them back from their own recovery.

8. Only tell the addict if you choose. You do not have to say the words I forgive you out loud. When you truly reach forgiveness in your heart, and you release all of the negative emotions involved, you will have successfully completed the process of forgiveness. It is up to you when and if you ever say the words.

9. Forgive yourself. Just as it’s important to forgive other people, it is especially important to forgive yourself. So you have not always made the right choices. Who has? Maybe you screamed at the addict in front your kids — forgive yourself. You got down in the dumps and ate a whole gallon of Rocky Road ice cream — forgive yourself. You made an internal promise that you wouldn’t give the addict money next time he or she demanded, but you gave in and handed them $40 — forgive yourself. You are in a bad situation. Forgive yourself and decide that the next time around you will handle things in a healthier way.

10. Breathe. Working through negative emotions in order to reach forgiveness can take a toll. If you find yourself feeling anxious, or holding onto a knot in your stomach, try focusing on your breathing. Slowly take in five to ten deep breaths. As you exhale, imagine all of your anxiety exiting out and blowing away. It seems like such a simple exercise, yet it really helps.

Forgiveness is a journey

By letting go of your past you are free to move into a brighter future. Set goals. Allow yourself to dream. Start creating a vision of what you want for your future, and then begin moving toward that vision.  Once you quit enabling an addict to control your life, your path to freedom becomes more clear.

However, forgiveness is a journey, so don’t put unrealistic expectations on yourself. The more disappointment, fear, and struggle you’ve been through, the longer your journey may take. But no matter how bad your circumstances have been, I urge you to work on forgiveness. You deserve to free yourself from the bondage of past pain.

Photo credit: cayme

Leave a Reply

19 Responses to “How to forgive an addict: Top 10 tips
Adam
2:10 am June 6th, 2014

An addict, not a member of my family by the way, did so much to damage me and my reputation that her pathetic attempt at happiness and “sobriety” (she’s lying, by the way) means nothing to me. So in case I haven’t made myself clear, I don’t agree. Addicts are selfish and need to make real attempts at making amends. otherwise, why would I care about their recovery?

HY
1:53 am October 1st, 2014

I agree. In theory you want to forgive them and move on but you can’t ever trust them so maybe they need to left alone to reinvent their lives with others who can trust them and you need to move on as well. That’s my mindet after 10 years of sorrys and lies

Lorie
4:21 am July 16th, 2015

Lisa, I am deeply impressed with this site and it’s Excellent advice! I am currently about to publish a book called HOW TO FORGIVE — A MANUAL FOR TORN UP HEARTS. I’ve been collecting stories and methods to help in forgiving for 23 years. But I am seeking a true anecdote, about a page long, of someone whose life has been turned inside out by alcoholism, and has been able to finally forgive and LET IT GO!
I would also be deeply grateful to find a story about a co-dependent who accepted legal blame for the alcoholic’s misdeeds (like causing a car crash, dismemberment or death.) I’ve heard stories of this before, but if I’m going to claim that a story is true, it must be more than a matter of “I know I heard this once.” Can you give me any anecdotes? They can be completely anonymous, and I’d be so grateful. (The story I’m thinking about involves a drunken husband with several DUIs, and barred from driving, who brutally demanded he drive his wife home from a party. He hit a bicyclist, causing cripling and paralysis, but before the police arraived he insisted his wife – who had no previous bad driving record- take the blame. If she didn’t, he would go to prison, and she and the children would be left destitute. So she took the blame.)

Lorie
4:41 am July 16th, 2015

May I use a few paragraphs from your blog, giving exact credit to you for each one. I’ll be glad to give you a list of the paragraphs I would like, but this probably is not the place to do so.

Lorie

2:40 pm July 16th, 2015

Hello Lorie. We’d be happy to help and yes, you can freely use paragraphs with reference. I also hope you get your anecdotes from Lisa soon. Best of luck with your book!

Msjaye
4:26 am July 27th, 2015

I have so much Anger & resentment for my new husband putting this disease on me. He has alcohol,gambling,sex,pills & codeine addiction. I had signed up for a therapist for or marriage problem & when I get there I had all of this to dump out. Cause he asked for help & I got him into a inpatient recovery place. But I’ve had dr appointments to go to and I was the only that was allowed to take him. I have been on a world wind spend everyday since this came about. I’ve gone to 3 different meetings al anon, pal and meeting with the recovery program. I am overwhelmed with it all. I had a melt down on today’s visit. I cried and let him know that how much resentment and anger I have. Right now I’m just sitting in my bed with fear about our relationship. I just got rid of a box of alcohol Doug they deceide to kick him out the program next week due to insurance reasons it won’t be here. I’m suffering bad & don’t know if I can make it through this with him.

Annie
12:40 pm August 3rd, 2015

Msjaye you’re in myheart today

Brittany
11:55 pm August 31st, 2015

I just want to say that i am currently dealing with my fiance who was doing heroin and not knowing that he was. This is posting is really going to help me. He is now 11 days clean and i am just wondering how i am going to deal with moving forward and figuring our our future and if there is going to be a future.

giavanni
3:37 am November 23rd, 2015

Thank you for this info it really has helped me make my decision

Donna
4:02 am December 28th, 2015

I am having a tough time with forgiveness. The first time my Alcoholic husband went through recovery I told him to either sober up or I was leaving. He did and he stayed sober for 5+ years. When he started to drink again it was like he never stopped. He went from sober to uncontrolled behaviors in a matter of 6 months. He has been heavily into his addiction for 5 years and I found out he had dipped into OUR retirement and opened a credit card without my knowledge and spending tons of cash on both booze and gambling I told him to leave. He did leave- 2 weeks after he left he started a program. He is now almost 4 months sober. We just started marriage counseling and he tries to come over and help with house and kids often. He wants to come back home. I don’t want to end our marriage but I am having a really tough time finding balance. I don’t trust him…. I cant trust him. But I want to reunite with him. He says things like “He has to rebuild the trust.” my current thoughts are that I will not ever REALLY trust him again. He has never beat me or kids, I have no reason to believe he has cheated on me. I just cant get over the lying and manipulating and financial grief he has put me through. I also know that the odds of him going back to drinking someday is pretty likely so why should I go through all this again just to find out in 5 or 10 years he decides to drink again. Should I live my whole life wondering and worrying if he is going to drink again?? Any advice would be appreciated. I am starting Al anon meetings this week hoping I will get some insight. I was in them in the past and did not get much enlightenment but figured I owed it to our 20 years of marriage to try.

Angie
1:42 pm February 19th, 2016

I am struggling very very much with forgiving my drug addicted parents. I have been dealing with their addiction for 20 years now. They have continually let me down over and over again. Every time I have forgiven them in the past they turn around and do something bigger or way worse than before. I believe that my anger has turned into resentment, for years and years of having to deal with not having parents who are actually parents in my life as well as good grandparents in my children’s lives. I’m trying to move past this now, trying to forgive, not forget, even if for the time being I am separating them from my life as well as my children’s lives. I’m just not sure how to do this the right way, even after reading articles such as this, I still don’t feel that I can forgive them, even though I feel that I need to for myself and my children. I’m so tired of going to counseling over and over and spending money that I really don’t have because of an addiction that I don’t have either, so I guess this is another area I struggle in as well, it feels like I’m the one that has to do all the work over and over and over with no results because I can’t control the problem that brings me to counseling in the first place. How do I not resent my parents and forgive them yet again, knowing that they will let me down again and again in the future?

StillLearning
7:47 am March 10th, 2016

Thank you so much for sharing these insights. I have been holding onto resentments from relationships with several sober addicts. When I met them, they were all already sober and working the steps, and I think I had unrealistic expectations for them. In one instance, I lent one of them several things, as well as money, and I kept handing things over, while uncomfortable about it, and when I finally asked for them back, she stopped talking to me. I held it against her, but she was showing me who she was the whole time, just as I was showing her who I was… I have not been owning up to my whole part in things. I felt like she is in recovery and owed me an amends, but like you said, I should not keep score. I need to let go, and I think I should just be happy for her that she is in recovery, and continue to work on myself.

Me
3:16 pm April 13th, 2016

Hi my husband has a gambling addiction. He basically gambles his salary out. I’m full of resentment, anger, can’t stop crying and I’m very tired and we have a huge amount of debt. Sometimes I think this is well beyond repair. I’m going to see someone and he is also in a program now…He still think he can do it by himself, and the we can fix our marriage by our self…. Maybe I’m just rational but it didn’t happen the last 4 times why now?? But what bothers me is I’m not sure I will every be able to forgive. This has happened the last 4 Years, but the things said and deeds that’s been done, how do you forgive that.. How do you move on or over? We have 2 young children, and my heart breaks for them.. They love him sooo much. I also have done the I’m leaving if you don’t and I’m leaving because, but that never stopped him from gambling…. All the why questions with no answers….. Please give me some direction :(

Elizabeth
7:14 pm April 24th, 2016

This really helped me. God bless you

Shalby
9:26 am May 19th, 2016

After 4 years with a drug addict, who constantly tries to beat his addiction and is a truly sweet person when not using, i know how difficult it is to try to reach the true forgiveness stage. My only lesson in this is… addiction is very selfish and although the sorries do help a little, he cannot fully help me feel better. He has to work on himself so much i never feel fully reasured by him. I have to work on my feelings of anger and resentment alone. It comes and goes. Outbursts dont help either of us and make us less likely to connect in a healthy way. Ive tried endlessly to receive support and understanding from him but it keeps him stuck in the guilt and shame… and makes me feel bad. The best thing i have found is to have an honest talk and to leave it there. If i feel angry i say im angry and spend time apart until its passed. It takes time but eventually i have learnt to let go when things are bad and to not get sucked into the drama. Forgiving is one thing, forgetting is harder. Anger spoils my day… let it come and then let it go. Two ill people is a recipe for disaster.

Charlie
8:10 am May 31st, 2016

Thanks for the tips on forgiveness….. it’s only natural that we as relatives or family members with some one that struggles with any kind of addiction get pulled into an emotional rollercoaster and develop trust issues that affect’s us.
letting go and forgiveness often takes us to some untraveled roads and probably scary decision making times.
I’ll be honest and I’m struggling letting go the pain and resentment and probably will take the selfish way out and end the relationship but afterwards one has to take care of yourself…
How can we make the right choice both for us and the loved one

Sara
3:02 am June 9th, 2016

Thank you!!! This has been so helpful. It’s changing my life already. I now have hope! God bless you!!!

chris
8:19 pm June 27th, 2016

I am currently that husband. That person. Having between 7-9 yrs sober (i lost track and didn’t care, life was good) i returned to the drink thinking i could HANDLE IT, because i accomplished so much. The poor girl i am married to (not for much longer) has never seen what addiction does to a family, but had the good sense to tell me to leave our house and 3 children after 3 years of heartfelt promises, letters, gifts, tears all in the name of guilt, and begging for forgiveness, and selfishness. I embarrassed not only her countless times but her family last year in front of their extended family. Her family is in constant fear and sadness for their daughter and their grandchildren. I was never violent, only argumentative, unprovoked to an insane level when drinking. They are a shut down and not communicate type of people(which are entitled to be), so once you’ve shown enough they have had enough. Chances…..oh god, i had so many chances, but the devil inside me said i can join the party every damn time even thpugh i knew i shouldn’t. I am fairly intelligent and can exercise restraint in every other part of my life in every way possible except the decision to not drink. I had many unpredictable bouts of sobriety in the past three years from 3 days from incident to 6 months, all done in my head, some meetings but just to fluff my own guilt and make it look genuine to get the forgiveness band aid. This sweet girl would believe me time after time after time(so would i), i was a great actor it seems, i really don’t know because there isn’t one thing i would do to hurt her, my kids or her family in my sober mind, and never did. I have all the traits of a normal person now, during and then, but after that first drink 3 yrs ago i took on another trait that i knew in my heart i didn’t want but then was completely at its mercy. Such sadness i have for her, my children now, even her family, i knew i was disrupting the balance yet i was blinded to really seeing it. I originally got sober through outpatient, this time though, once i was asked to leave our house i checked myself in to rehab (only for 2 weeks due to i am financial provider) but once again i stopped thinking for myself and surrounded myself with recovery, came out of there and into outpatient while working, not a night goes by i dont go to a meeting for the right reasons, for me. Selfish it sounds but the taste is still fresh and my demon is very impatient, surrounding myself with professionals, regular people’s successes and failures somehow works, it has for 90 yrs in aa, nobody knows why. As for my wife, she may need some sort of counseling, what an alcoholic can do to a loved one is horrendous. Forgiveness? Haha I read a small book in recovery called living sober, great tools in there for a screw up like me. For instance they speak of the “as if”. Picture as if you were the person you harmed. It stymies the selfish defensive anger I get from not getting any recognition for doing well but it also makes me want to cry like a baby when i picture as if i were that sweet angel i married and everything she endured because of me. I do hope she can forgive herself, and move on, but as for me i shouldn’t get an ounce of forgiveness. I love her and my children heart and soul, and i will miss us as a family, so bad it will change my soul and hollow out my core. I fucking hate alcohol for this, but forgiveness would be a selfish, self serving happy thought. I strayed off and chopped up the real message the author was trying to get across, i apologize. 44 real, solid days sober.

Lydia @ Addiction Blog
11:34 am June 30th, 2016

Thanks for sharing your story, Chris. I’m glad that somebody took responsibilities and admitted his mistakes… Stay strong!

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About Lisa Espich

Lisa Espich is the author of the multi award-winning book, Soaring Above Co-Addiction: Helping your loved one get clean, while creating the life of your dreams. For additional articles, resources, and a free preview chapter of Soaring Above Co-Addiction visit her website. Her book is available at bookstores everywhere and at Twin Feather Publishing.

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